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President's Message: Be Brave, Be Bold, Be Fearless
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March is Women’s History Month, as it has been since the 1970s. I started looking around for the “theme” for the month, only to find out there are many. One group suggested the theme in the title. The more I think about it, however, the more I believe it is a theme for all of us in the Federal service. Given the uncertainty we have been experiencing lately, if there was ever a time for bravery, boldness, and fearlessness, it is now.

Want to see a portrait of all three of those characteristics? Look at this picture from FEI Session 1 taken in 1968:

Fifty-three people were part of Session 1—52 men and one woman. Her name was Dorothy L. Starbuck. Let me tell you a little about Starbuck. She was born in 1917, one of 11 children. She enlisted in the Army in World War II and was eventually assigned to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, in London. Her job: hand carry “eyes only” documents—including those related to D-Day operations—between Generals Eisenhower, George Patton, and Omar Bradley. She left the service in 1946 with the rank of Captain. 

Starbuck joined the Veterans Administration that same year as a GS-4 adjustment clerk at the Chicago VA hospital. In 1962, she was appointed the first woman director of a VA regional office, in Baltimore, and by the late 1960s had been promoted to field director for the Western region, which covered 13 states and Manila. That was the position she held when she was chosen to attend that first class at FEI. Eight years later, she was appointed the VA’s chief benefits officer, directing a budget of $12 billion, which was 70 percent of its annual budget at the time. She was the first woman ever to hold that position. She retired in December 1984 after almost 40 years of service to the VA. Starbuck passed away on July 19, 1996.

Starbuck embodied that “bold, brave, and fearless” mantra. She was the first of a (now) long list of women to attend this premier leadership training. Female participation has grown from 2 percent when Starbuck attended to 45 percent today. Last year 337 women attended the program and since 2014, 1,559 women have completed the program.

Is there another Dorothy Starbuck among those women? I have faith that there is. I believe there are women who will “shoot for the stars,” display the confidence that attending FEI grants its graduates to take those impossible jobs, and be every bit the success embodied by Starbuck.

What made Starbuck different? Her commitment to keeping at the top of her game by continuous learning and making connections with others who could make a difference in her organization is a lesson that would serve us all regardless of whether we are a man or a woman. As we learned at the Executive Forum a couple of years ago, Starbuck embodied “grit” that all could see. 

Like Starbuck, I believe we all should make the investment in keeping our skills sharp with continuous learning. An excellent event to do that (as well as help you make important connections with people doing jobs similar to yours) is coming up. 

Registration is open for this year’s Executive Forum on May 21, 2019. The forum will be on the campus of The George Washington University in DC. It is a one-day training event that you and your colleagues should attend to brush up on your leadership skills. 

The theme of the forum is “The 2020 Federal Executive Leader: Integrate, Innovate, and Motivate with Purpose and Integrity.” We have presenters on the topics of (1) connecting in a virtual world, (2) mastering strategic forgiveness, and (3) understanding tight and loose cultures. 

A panel of senior executives and Qualifications Review Board members have also been assembled to chat about what it takes to join the Senior Executive Service. I’m looking forward to seeing you and your colleagues at the forum!

Dorothy Starbuck, during this Women’s History Month, we salute you and say thank you for helping blaze the path for all who followed!

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